Emma Kealy takes over from Steph Ryan as deputy leader of the Victorian Nationals

The new deputy leader of the Victorian Nationals hopes to have more direct influence over coalition policy as the party prepares for a tough state election in November.

Western Victorian MP Emma Kealy was promoted after her colleague Steph Ryan resigned last week after eight years in the political arena.

Ms Ryan, the member for Euroa, is expecting her second child and left politics to spend more time with her young family.

Her departure is considered a blow for the Nationals, who suffered big swings away from them at the last state election.

Federal Nationals MP Darren Chester said the Nationals had a difficult task ahead of them at the upcoming state election, but said the party had a decent chance in the seats of Morwell, Shepparton and Mildura.

As deputy leader of the Victorian Nationals, Ms Kealy retains her roles as the Opposition Shadow Minister for family violence, women and mental health.

“It’s lovely to have the support of your colleagues and be part of the strong Nationals team as we look down the barrel of the election,” she said.

Background in health

Ms Kealy grew up in the small community of Edenhope in far-western Victoria — population 937 at the last census — and her family remains embedded in that community.

The former regional hospital chief executive has spent eight years as the member for the western Victorian seat of Lowan.

“I’m grateful I grew up in a small country town because you don’t discriminate between who your mates are based on what school you go to, how much money people have got, what your cultural background is or even how old you are,” she said.

Emma Kealy speaking in the Victorian Parliament as another MP looks on.
Ms Kealy was previously chief executive of Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital, in the town where she grew up.(AAP: Tracey Nearmy)

“Everybody integrates and gets on together, and works hard to be the best they possibly can.”

Ms Kealy has previously been critical of the government’s perceived lack of funding for mental health workers, particularly in schools.

She has also voiced concerns over the merger of four hospitals in western Victoria, which she said has led to services that were based in the Lowan electorate to be consolidated with those several hours away in Ballarat.

Grampians Health, the organisation formed as a result of the merger, said that contrary to Ms Kealy’s claim it was increasing services to rural western Victoria.

Work-life balance 

Before entering politics, Ms Kealy served as chief executive at Edenhope hospital, one of the healthcare institutions subject to last year’s merger.

She is the mother of two children, including a two-year-old.

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Victorian Nationals deputy leader Steph Ryan retires from politics at the age of 36, due to family commitments.
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“I’ve been a single parent and a sole parent for a period of time and now,” she said. 

“I have two kids and that is absolutely front and centre as part of my life. That’s the same today as it was yesterday.

“I’m fortunate to have enormous support from my amazing partner Chris, and my parents.

“It takes a village to raise a child and I know I’ve had enormous support, and continue to get the fabulous support from the people around me.

“I’ll always put those little ones first because they are amazing.”

When asked about her work-life balance as a parliamentarian, Ms Kealy quipped, “I hope you ask the same question to all the male leaders”.

“You’ve got to get that work-life balance right, whether you’re in politics or working hard to pay to put food on the table and pay for those rising energy costs. We are all trying to make the fragile balance.”

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